4 Things Roger Goodell Said At His Press Conference That Actually Made Things Worse
By now you've heard the news, and the criticisms too — the NFL has a domestic violence problem, the NFL doesn't take its domestic violence problem seriously enough, and Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't take its domestic violence problem seriously enough. Goodell and the league have been under ceaseless scrutiny since their disastrous handling of former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice's domestic violence against his wife, Janay Rice. And Friday, things got even worse, thanks to Goodell's high-profile press conference, which helped absolutely nothing.
The press conference was a crucial public appearance for Goodell, who had receded from public view for a solid week beforehand. The NFL's credibility, and by extension Goodell's, had already been under intense criticism over the lax two-game suspension Rice was initially awarded, for striking his wife unconscious in a casino elevator back in February. As legal charges against Rice were dropped, that two-game suspension looked like it would be his only punishment.
But then the in-elevator video of the incident went public, showing the violent blow that knocked Janay out, and suddenly the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens couldn't act quickly enough to punish him — he was cut outright by the team, and Goodell insisted that the league hadn't seen the grisly footage up until that point.
Unfortunately for Goodell, that claim was undercut almost immediately by an AP report that a law enforcement official sent the footage to the NFL all the way back in April, months before the suspension was handed down. It's touched off a firestorm of "what did he know, when did he know it" conversations, essentially driving at the idea of this incident as Goodell's very own Watergate. But with the full magnitude of the situation still unclear, Goodell took the chance to make his case to the public today. It did not go well. Here are four things Roger Goodell said that made sure of that.
1. This is Ultimately My Fault, But I Haven't Considered Resigning
At the very top of Goodell's press conference, he invoked the ultimate responsibility of his position, ostensibly accepting much of the blame people have been directing at him, but keeping any description of what that blame entails pretty vague.
Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me. ... The same mistakes can never be repeated.
When the was inevitably asked about his own plans, however, and whether he'd considered resigning, he responded "not at all," according to CBS News.
Because I acknowledged my mistake August 28. We're moving in a very important direction by getting experts to say, 'How do we do this better?' We're all, as a society, having difficulty in how to deal with this. The NFL has to take care of its house. That's what my focus is. How do we do this better as the NFL and make sure we keep everything on the table? We're going to make sure we look at every aspect.
In other words, I messed this up horribly, but now I'm the only man who can fix it! As Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith observed, this deference to getting off the hook just for "acknowledging a mistake" is something players sometimes attempt too.
2. He Might End Up With More Power at the End of This...
However he tried to make it sound, Goodell's proposed solution for the NFL's domestic violence blind spot could prove problematic. As Deadspin detailed, Goodell called for changes to the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy. In its current form, it's essentially a means for him to mete out punishment as he sees fit for a range of behavioral violations, but what precisely he's doing in calling for changes is still unclear. Rather than implementing reforms to limit his own powers, he could just as easily be pushing for their expansion.
I know this because we will make it happen. Nothing is off the table. Let me say it again, we will implement new conduct policies.
3. ...Which Would Be Strange, Considering He's the One Who Blew It
Regardless of whether you believe the NFL or Roger Goodell had or hadn't seen the footage of Rice striking his wife, this much is undeniable: the truly inciting incident of all this outrage was when the two-game suspension was handed down, making it plain to everyone that whoever made that decision was incredibly out-of-touch.
And the person ultimately responsible for that decision was Roger Goodell. The NFL's Personal Conduct Policy was hailed at the time of its introduction in 2007 as proof Goodell was going to be a rock-hard disciplinarian, in part because of the overwhelming authority it affords him.
Upon learning of conduct that may give rise to discipline, the League may initiate an investigation to include interviews and information gathering from medical, law enforcement, and other relevant professionals. On matters involving NFL players, the League will timely advise the NFLPA of the investigation and outcome. As appropriate, the employee will also have the opportunity, represented by counsel and/or a union official, to address the conduct at issue. Upon conclusion of the investigation, the Commissioner will have full authority to impose discipline as warranted.
Basically, Goodell could've taken any number of actions on Rice. He could've banned him for a full season, or even more — by the strictest letter of the policy, he could've banned Ray Rice for life. But given even such a range of possible options, he picked just two games. As such, any reforms that aren't specifically targeted at breaking up his power aren't really addressing the core of the scandal.
4. Bringing the NFL's Illegal Drug Policies Into It
The issue that's landed the NFL squarely under this intense public scrutiny is domestic violence, pure and simple. It's recently come in two different forms, partner abuse and child abuse, but it's domestic violence all the same. It hasn't been about the NFL's drug and alcohol policies, except to the extent that a handful of recent drug suspensions made Rice's two-game penalty seem that much more absurd. Regardless, Goodell gave a shout-out to those same drug and alcohol policies, according to Deadspin.
Fourth, we strongly, strongly condemn and will punish behavior that is totally unacceptable. Domestic violence, including child abuse, sexual assault, irresponsible ownership or handling of fire arms, the illegal use of alcohol or drugs. These activities must be condemned and stopped through education and discipline. Our standards and the consequences of falling short must be clear, consistent and current. They must be implemented through procedures that are fair and transparent. This is a central issue today.
To refresh your memory, as compared to Ray Rice's initial two-game suspension, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon received a full season's suspension for failing his third NFL drug test for marijuana. In fairness, his suspension was recently cut to just ten games, but still. That just means the league considers getting busted for weed five times worse than what they initially thought about Ray Rice's act of violence, instead of eight.
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